Lessons From Life in a Small RV

This post was originally published here on Austin’s blog and is reprinted here with permission of the author.


It’s been almost two months since I’ve started living in my RV, Rocinante, full time. It hasn’t all been sugar and spice, but for the most part I have really enjoyed it. Today: some lessons from life in a small RV.

2 Rialtas 1

Two Winnebago Rialta’s parked back to back on Van Ness St. in NW DC. I’m the one in front, my friend Peter is the one in the back with the solar panels on top.


Read time: 7 mins.
Skim time: 4 – 5 mins.


Lesson One:

I prefer sleeping with my feet elevated slightly above my head.

I would probably have never figured this out before, since beds in most houses, apartments, dorm rooms, hostels etc. are completely level. When you’re in an RV you park and sleep on all sorts of strange terrain. Uphills, downhills, flat roads, dirt roads, next to construction sites etc…

My bed is located in the back of my RV. Here’s one of the pictures from before I bought the thing.

Rialta Bed

This is facing the rear of the RV. The driver’s seat is behind the camera.

So when I park on a slight incline and crawl into bed at night, my feet wind up above my head. Anything too steep is weird, because then I feel like my entire body is sliding towards the pillows all night long. Even with the sticking power of my Isotonic Structure 6 Zone Memory Foam Mattress Topper, which I love. But if I get the degree of incline right (about 10 – 15 degrees), sleeping with my feet elevated above my head is strangely comforting.

I don’t know why. But it is.

If and when I move into an apartment or other living situation in the future, I will probably stuff blankets or bed raisers under the bottom two legs of my bed so that I can recreate the effect of sleeping parked on an incline.

Lesson Two:

I can now look at any public street, and inside of 15 seconds, tell you whether or not it would be a good street on which to sleep at night.

I won’t go into too much detail here, but it’s probably not the streets you would naturally pick out. You don’t want a dark industrial street completely out of the way of everything, because parking a vehicle there will attract attention. If you’re the only vehicle parked on the entire street and someone comes by, they’re going to wonder what you’re doing there.

You want a road in a nice upper-middle class neighborhood. A mixed residential / commercial zone is preferable, but a wide residential road where there are houses on one side, and a park, or row of trees or bushes on the other side is your best bet. Park with one flank against the row of trees or bushes. Big vehicles stand out less that way. If you’re in a car, you’ll stand out less, too.

Also, in most upper-middle class neighborhoods everybody goes inside, and stays inside after dinner.

Except for dog walkers.

You have to watch out for those.

Lesson Three:

The vast majority of material possessions that I have ever owned are not worth keeping. I now believe this is true for everyone.

Since my last year of college, I’ve reduced the amount of things/goods/possessions I own by 60 – 80%. This is just an estimate, although I think it’s a fair estimate. In retrospect, I wish I had tracked how much stuff I’ve gotten rid of more precisely.

Let’s do a test.

Think of your bedroom. There’s your bed, with it’s sheets. The blankets and maybe a comforter. You might have a bookshelf with some books, a coffee table, a desk and a chair? A lamp, perhaps? A closet full of clothes and maybe some boxes of stuff under the bed, or at the bottom of the closet?

Now just think about how many of those things you use on a daily basis.

No, scratch that.

Think of how many of those things you even look at on a daily basis. Think of how many of those things even cross your mind once a week. When was the last time you read a book from that bookshelf of yours, or wore all of those shirts/pants/jackets/scarves/socks/shoes/hats that just sit and take up space?

Now… expand that to your entire house/apartment/dorm room/whatever. All of those knick knacks. The art on the walls. More books (those are heavy). A pantry full of food that you’ve forgotten about? You could go through every single room in your house, and I bet that you don’t think about more than half of the stuff you own on a weekly basis. Being generous here, I probably didn’t think about more than 30% of the stuff I owned on a weekly basis.

I only know this because I went through the fairly emotional process of giving away, selling, or throwing out most of my stuff. I had formed emotional attachments to a lot of it, even though I never used it or thought about it.

Right now I have three drawers of clothes. Some shirts and nice pants hanging in my hanging closet, most of which I don’t even use. I have a box of books in storage under my bed which I never look at or think about. I have sheets for my bed, a few books, and some spices. I probably only need half of the ~12 cabinets that I have in my RV. I just don’t have enough stuff to fill ’em up anymore.

The drawer above my chair has only one thing in it, and it doesn’t need to be there: a 200 count box of Howard Leight NRR33 Max Earplugs. Those puppies have adequately blocked out the sound of power saws and jackhammers on the sidewalk next to me when I’ve inadvertently parked next to a construction site.

Any time I need to move or drive somewhere, almost 100% of my things come with me. No U Hauls, no moving trucks, or spending the entire day hauling boxes with friends.

Just me. Ready to go. Whenever.

Lesson Four:

The majority of the physical space in most houses/apartments/dorm rooms is extremely inefficient.

I’m commenting on this from a purely practical point of view, so any architects, interior designers, or people who think about the aesthetic effect that space can have your perceptions, ignore me.

I have a kitchen with a two burner propane stove. I have a microwave and a little fridge. I have a bathroom where I can shower if I want to, although most of the time I shower at my fancy gym downtown after a nice steam. Nicer than any shower I’d have in an apartment. I have a bed, a table that can seat two, and more storage space than I know what to do with.

The difference between my RV and most of the apartments that my friends live in right now is that I have almost no dead space. Big flowing hallways that exist just to make a room seem bigger, or wider than it is. I don’t have empty space to contribute to the “flow” of my RV, and consequently, I think it flows better than most of the apartments I’ve seen.

Lesson Five:

Flowing water and electricity are not as necessary for your life as you think.

Getting more spartan here, but still not going completely off the edge and into the abyss.

I have a 21 gallon fresh water tank in my small RV that I can use for cooking, brushing my teeth, washing my hands, flushing the toilet etc…

For some reason, my flowing water decided to stop working for two or three weeks right after I moved in. I was upset for a while, but found that all I need to get me through a night is a 1.5L bottle of water. That’s to brush my teeth, to drink, to wash my hands, and whatever else I want to do with water. So, I keep a few of these things filled up in the RV all the time.

My flowing water started working again after a few weeks (I still have no clue why it stopped), but I still mainly just use my 1.5L water bottle. I have to fill up my fresh water tank less often that way.

Same for electricity. When I’ve lived in an apartment before, I had all of my stuff plugged in constantly. When I moved into the RV, I was going to buy solar panels, put them on my roof and wire them to the car batteries so that I could charge stuff overnight. Like I would do in an apartment.

My laptop and Clear mobile wifi hotspot both last for between 2 – 4 hours running on batteries. I usually don’t get home until 8 or 9 during the week, and there’s really no reason that I should be on my computer after 10pm or 11pm anyway.

So, I just keep my laptop, phone, and mobile wifi spot charged in the office, at a coffee shop, at the gym, wherever I might be. Whenever the batteries run out, that’s it for the evening. I read or go to bed.

Lesson Six:

People are wrapped up in their own worlds.

There’s only been one single time that I’ve noticed anybody notice my RV. I was driving, and someone at a bus stop shouted “Look! A camper van!” but then I was gone.

People just don’t notice stuff. They think Rocinante is just a big empty van parked on the side of the road.

Additional things I like:

  • No rent payments. Only “RV payments.” Most people spend about half of their monthly salary on rent payments. Some people have rent and a car payment due every month. My minimum RV payment is less than $150. I always pay more than that, but if something really crazy happened and I needed extra cash for a month, I could just pay the minimum.
  • My insurance is less than $20/week for full coverage. (I think this is because it’s retired people insurance through AARP.)
  • No utilities bills.
  • Mobility. I still can’t get over how great it is to drive to Spaworld in my house, and sleep in the parking lot if I don’t want to sleep inside.


Honestly, there’s not much I don’t like about living in my RV. It has everything I need. But, to be totally transparent, there are some trade offs. I’ll list a few here, briefly.

  • It’s cold in DC. I’m working on fixing this right now. I have an Olympian Wave 6 waiting for me that should heat things up inside to a nice toasty degree, according to Tynan. It will get colder in DC, so I’m hoping he’s right.
  • It’s less romantic than an apartment. In an apartment you can do things like cook extravagant meals and take romantic baths. I love doing both of those. It’s just different in an RV. No baths, for sure.
  • I’m less likely to cook in my RV. I’ve found myself eating out a lot more since I moved into the RV. I can totally cook in there, but for some reason I’m just more likely to go out to eat.
  • There are only two places I can stand up straight. In the kitchen, and on the step right when I enter the RV. This isn’t as much of a problem as you might think, but it took a week or two to get used to. Usually when you’re at home you’re sitting down or lying down anyway, right?

At any rate, I love the RV overall, and am happy with my decision to move into it. I’m going to take a road trip down to North Carolina next weekend to spend some time with family and friends.

It’s still sort of strange to me that I’ll be driving down with all of my worldly possessions.


A Note from Anant:

Need help thinking outside the box for your organization, or coming up with unconventional solutions to the challenges and problems you face in your business? The Anant team is packed with expert architects and unconventional strategists like Austin who can help you think through solutions unique to the challenges you face. At Anant, we understand that business is a lifestyle which must be lived creatively. We try to solve problems and challenges in our lives and businesses creatively, and bring that expertise to bear when we consult with you.


4 thoughts on “Lessons From Life in a Small RV

  1. Great article ! I have had a desire to do the same for some years now, First step was to vastly simplify my life by giving away about 85% of my junk, best thing I have ever done, everything I own I pretty much use every day and much easier to keep track of. Keep it up and let us know what’s new with you, Good day

  2. I’ve been keeping my eye out for a used Rialta lately so all your info and observations are really appreciated. I’m ready to retire but still physically fit and want to get out to all the places in the US I’ve never seen. What I REALLY appreciate is that you are young which makes my plan seem not so old fogie-like, which was the initial reaction I got from some friends. Keep posting — I’m hanging on all your words!

  3. Never heard of a steam shower enclosure until finally I came across this site, so thankful I did really want
    one now and finance letting will probably be getting one
    soon enough

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